No one really knew what was going to happen Tuesday night. Everyone had hopes, fears, and opinions. But that’s what makes elections in Alaska interesting. No matter how much money one doles out, we don’t have reliable polls. We don’t have definitive answers. Come election time, we fly by the seat of our pants.
The Anchorage mayoral runoff was no exception.
The final week of campaigning between the two finalists, Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski, took a major turn toward the bizarre.
The Demboski campaign and notable supporters — namely Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple and Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council — accused Berkowitz of supporting a father’s right to marry his own son, citing an episode of KFQD’s “Bernadette and Berkowitz” radio show from last October. Unfortunately, they collectively got the “how to accuse someone” protocol backwards, starting with the allegation and ending, a week later, with evidence that didn’t really support the initial claim.
On the left, the Immoral Minority blog lodged unsubstantiated attacks (later picked up by the Alaska Dispatch News) against Demboski, drudging out intimate details about her past through court documents — but making bold leaps of presumptions, including DNA testing on her child (also, ick) which cited unnamed sources rather than sticking to what the actual documents said.
Also, they steal our photos. So, boo. And an added hiss.
Demboski held a small gathering at her campaign headquarters on 5th Ave. in downtown Anchorage. She announced the gathering on her campaign’s Facebook page: “Campaign Party!!! Tonight at HQ (329 E 5th) 7pm! (Almost) All are welcome!”
We took a cue from the “almost” qualifier and sent someone in anonymously, because there’s no such thing as an exclusive public event, and the press should be allowed to cover such things. I stand by the decision, especially after hearing that the ADN’s Nat Hertz was barred from attending for no reason other than Demboski’s objection to his employer’s coverage of her candidacy.
She gave a very respectful and gracious speech, the bulk of which thanked her volunteers. She also spoke for the first time about her decision to run, crediting her mother-in-law and her colleague on the Anchorage Assembly.
“I still to this day blame Bill Evans, Assembly member from south Anchorage,” she told the crowd. “Because there was one day — I always push to have Assembly members look further and dig deeper, and so I had arranged a tour of the ML&P power plant.”
And I’ll never forget the day that Bill Evans pulled me aside, in a dirt parking lot and said, “Amy, I really need to talk to you.” And I had been putting these people off for three or four — three months or so, because there had been this groundswell of people saying, “We want you to run.” And I just said, “No way. Not interested. You know, I just want to focus on serving Chugiach-Eagle River right now. That’s my focus.” And he pulled me aside that day — there was something in his voice, and it was serious and it was absolutely genuine. And said, “We really need to talk to you.” And there were people from south Anchorage, from Chugiak-Eagle River, from west Anchorage, that had come together and asked me if I would run to be your next mayor.
The audience cheered. Demboski added that her mother-in-law challenged her on her claim that she always put service before herself, asking if she really meant it. “It became clear to me that I had a calling. And that calling was service,” Demboski said.
“I can’t stand here before you today and tell you I’m going to win,” she told the crowd of 30 or so. “I don’t know. I know it’s going to be a monumental task to go from virtual obscurity in many’s eyes to mayor of Anchorage in a short period of time, but what I can tell you is I’m ready for the job.”
Speaking to the media, and perhaps trying to justify prohibiting them from the event, Demboski spoke sharply:
We knew, for the most part, no offense, the media would be on their [Berkowitz’s] side. And, you know, the fact of the matter is I respect honesty and candor. I’m not always going to like what is reported, but I demand they be fair. And when they’re not, they stay on the sidelines. So, when the media exceeds all bounds of decency, what we expect, as Anchorage residents, that they adhere to the same level of decency that we all would expect. You know, we, as citizens, have to hold them accountable. And it’s not that we’re always going to agree. That’s okay. We are going to make mistakes and they should report that. But, you know, to go after somebody’s family is disgusting.
For the record, I’m with her on the last bit.
She also identified a “a little person back there,” referring to Bernadette Wilson. Wilson, who has been on leave from her talk show duties after giving birth to her first daughter, went on the Dave Stieren show on KFQD Monday to reveal the all-of-a-sudden-we-found-it audio clip featuring Berkowitz.
“You know, there are some people that God brings into your life that are no nonsense, straight shootin’, and tell you exactly what they expect of you, and they demand you deliver,” Demboski said of Wilson. “She’s one of those women. And I’ve got to tell you, with all the drama that happened this last week, it was truly a Godsend that this woman stepped up and set the record straight.”
Wilson’s other half, the Alaska Legislature’s House Minority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) was a few blocks away at Flattop Pizza, where Berkowitz held a much different campaign party.
Mayor-Elect Ethan Berkowitz.
By the time polls closed at 8pm in Anchorage, Flattop Pizza felt more like a rock concert than a political rally. There wasn’t walking room; there was barely moving room. The sports bar was packed, wall to wall, and the air was electric. When Berkowitz entered, as the first results began trickling in, that energy erupted into cheers and applause. It took about fifteen minutes for the candidate to walk, flooded with cameras and supporters, from one end of the room to the other, greeting everyone in attendance.
After copious amounts of hugs and handshakes, Berkowitz made his way to the window showing out onto 6th Avenue, stood atop a table, and grabbed a microphone to address the gathering.
“I do like the view from up here,” he joked. “For a guy who’s looked at shoulders and heads his whole life, this is nice.”
He then gave the best speech I’ve heard him give.
“I was looking at a coin as I was coming in here. And on the back of the coin, it says e pluribus unum,” he said.
Someone joked: “Is that Spanish?”
In order for us to get where we need to go, we need to be together. And that’s the challenge we all have. So I might be the guy whose name is up there, but we all have a responsibility now. We have to be persuasive. We have to show people who might not have agreed with us initially that there’s a better way of moving ahead…. It doesn’t matter whether you’re from Eagle River-Chugiak, or Girdwood, or Mountain View or Fairview, or the Hillside, or west Anchorage — this is our Anchorage. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, an independent, or you don’t even vote. This is our Anchorage. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Buddhist, or something else. This is our Anchorage. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, or gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or —
And I can’t tell you how he ended that sentence because — despite the relatively small size of the room — all anyone there heard was cheers and applause. Deafening cheers and applause. But I’m relatively sure it ended with “This is our Anchorage.”
“In spit of all the different things we are, in spite of all the different places we’ve come from, we are here and this is our home,” he concluded. “And the challenge that we have, that I need your help to achieve, is to convince people that there is a better way. That we can rise above the kind of politics that we have seen for too long, that’s spectacularly unsuccessful and is simply about winning elections. We have to show people we can solve problems and set ourselves on a strong course towards the future. This is our charge. Not mine, all of us.”
In the end, Berkowitz exceeded expectations. The current vote tally, with 122 out of 124 precincts reporting (and about 6,000 early and absentee votes left to count), Berkowitz leads Demboski by a staggering and insurmountable 11,513 vote lead (59-41).
I’ve been a critic of Berkowitz in the past and have no doubt I’ll be one again in the future, depending on the issue we’re talking about. His campaign — the same was true for Demboski’s — seemed allergic to specifics. He’s going to have a really difficult time getting up to speed on municipal issues, especially facing veteran politicians serving on the Assembly — most notably Assembly Chair Dick Traini, but including Demboski (who is not so much a veteran, but someone he’ll have to deal with for sure).
But here’s what I will say.
For the last six years, Anchorage has been run by Mayor Dan Sullivan. Sullivan vetoed an equal rights ordinance in 2009 and opposed a similar ballot initiative in 2012. He openly worried about meeting President Barack Obama in 2009, joking that he had to “watch his wallet” in his presence. His signature legislation was Ordinance 37, which opposed public workers and made it more difficult for the city to recruit the employees that will ensure a prosperous future for all of us. And he oversaw reductions in the police department; the consequences of which we all wake up to read in headlines everyday.
Sullivan will soon return to life outside of public office. He humorously told KTVA’s Emily Carlson, “I’m gonna go be a welder.”
I wish him weld. And am pleased to see the legacy left by his administration replaced by one that seems, on all accounts, to be rooted in inclusion. That should be the goal.
After all, someone told me tonight that it’s Our Anchorage.